The Joy of Flying
I was originally going to call this post “Why I Hate Flying”, because I really do, and I didn’t believe there was anything good about it. However, now that I set out to write it, I realize that the time during a flight is the ideal time to write and in fact lately, it’s the only time I do write. So there is, in fact something positive about the experience and therefore I’ll hide the negativity of the title in my trademark sarcasm. But just so you know, I really hate flying. Today is a perfect example of why.
On my current journey with Remote Year, since we change cities every month and given the fact that each city is usually in another country and a considerable distance from the previous one, it means I’ve been taking a lot of flights lately. It’s just part of the deal. Some flights (the one from Split to Prague) have gone more smoothly than others (the one from Lisbon to Rabat – two words: airport strike), but at the end of the day I still loathe the entire process – from packing, to getting to the airport, to queuing up with selfish idiots, to paying outrageous prices for mediocre food, to wasting time until it’s time to board, to queuing up with selfish idiots again, to being jammed into a seat like a sardine in a can, to trying to eat questionable food out of those ridiculous portion-sized containers while having no elbow room and not getting served a drink until you’ve already finished eating, to, well, you get the idea. Shit, customs form to fill out. Where the hell did I put my pen?
Almost every flight I’ve ever taken in my entire life has been a morning flight. This usually means I’m up late packing the night before because I’ve not had the time and/or the motivation to do it sooner. Up late packing, followed by an inevitable early wake up means I’ve already started the day with less sleep than normal. Now I’m not one of those people who can only function on 10+ hours of sleep but I do genuinely appreciate (and am a lot less cranky) when I’ve had a least 7 hours of shut-eye. This never happens the night before a flight.
The motivation for writing this post (read need to vent) starts with my lack of sleep last night. I actually finished packing at a decent hour and was on track for about 6.5 hours of sleep. All was well and good until about 4 hours in to my blissful slumber when the cat at the Airbnb I’m staying at lets himself into my room (see video of Domingo taken earlier in the week for an example of this) and proceeds to scratch, bite and downright attack everything that isn’t a piece of furniture – my suitcase straps, an empty water bottle, the switch for the bedside lamp, my passport, a plastic bag, my feet. I could go on. Naturally I grabbed the creature, tossed him out in the hall, closed the door and went back to sleep. However some time later he was back in again. Repeat lines 4 thru 7 of this paragraph. And do it again. Yes, the little bugger came in a 3rd time. This time I’d had enough so after tossing him out in the hall (again) I coaxed him out onto the balcony and then slipped back inside and closed the door behind me.
Now this isn’t as bad as it sounds. The overnight low was in the low teens so it was not at all cold outside. Besides, the door is open all the time and the cat spends most of his time out there anyway. And it’s wrapped in a protective screen to prevent him from falling off. He’s already done that once (which is why the screen is there now) – falling from the 14th floor down to the 4th and getting off nearly unscathed. Yes, this actually happened, and the little bugger almost lost another of his 9 lives last night. Anyway I thought I’d won the battle and went triumphantly back to bed, only to be awoken by the person I was renting from coming home from a night of all-night partying. After a short-lived amount of drunken stumbling in the hallway I was once again treated to silence. Until…. that f*cking cat! By now it’s only about 20 minutes until my alarm is set to go off, so I accept defeat and crawl to the shower.
Depending on how far away the airport is from wherever I am, the trek to the airport can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour by car. Longer if you take public transport but I’ve almost given up this method for good. I’m actually an advocate for public transit (one less car on the road is never a bad thing) and I can appreciate the cost savings involved. However I’ve honestly tried to take public transit a number of times lately, but after considering the effort to get to the beginning of the transit route from where I am (Santiago, Chile), or the infrequency of the bus schedules (Split, Croatia), not to mention the hassle of lugging the weight of a year’s worth of stuff up and down stairs, navigating through swarms of people, etc., it’s just not a practical option.
There are, however, a couple of exceptions to this. One is in Toronto, my home (?) city that finally got a much-needed rail link. And there was that side trip I took to Vienna a few months ago. Yes, I was only travelling with a carry-on, but also Vienna has an excellent and affordable train service that connects the airport with one of the city’s main metro station. But I digress.
In most large cities on most continents nowadays, Uber is available and it’s an efficient and relatively inexpensive way to get to/from the airport. Last night when setting my alarm I had ruled out the public transit option so I set my alarm a little later than I otherwise would have, knowing the journey would be quick. I was happy that I’d get to sleep for as long as possible but you already know how that turned out.
Anyway, showered and ready to go, I summoned an Uber. 7 minutes away. Perfect. Enough time to put on my shoes, say goodbye to the cat (I actually really like the guy and we had gotten along great until last night – I think he knew something) and catch the lift downstairs. *Your driver is arriving*. Sounds good. 2 minutes go by, nothing. Another 4 minutes go by. *Your driver has cancelled your trip*. Huh? Well okay, I’ll just call another. *Your driver is completing a trip nearby. 6 minutes away*. Fine. 5 minutes pass. *Your driver is arriving*. Great. 3 minutes pass. Nothing. Email notification comes in: *Your (first) trip was cancelled after 5 minutes of requesting it. You are being charged $1,100 CLP* (A little more than $2 CAD). Seriously? The driver cancelled and I’m being charged? Whatever, deal with it later. Now where was that other driver? Another 2 minutes pass. *Your driver has cancelled your trip*. You can’t be serious! F*ck it, I’ll just get a cab.
For the record, I was hailing an Uber from a normal, residential address in the heart of downtown Santiago. No unusual instructions on how to arrive, no construction or traffic delays. I have no idea why Uber had it in for me today. Anyways, at this point I’m stressed because, yes I’m tired and cranky, but I’ve wasted over 20 minutes and now I have to track down a cab. I know 20 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but this is South America after all, and there will be inevitable delays at another point between now and the time I board the plane. Guaranteed. So let’s going already.
A taxi happened to pull up to drop of a fare so I asked him “Do you accept credit cards?” Yes. “Perfect! Take me to the airport please.” I asked him how much and he tells me an inflated rate but whatever. Then somehow during the next 2 blocks of driving it’s determined that he doesn’t accept credit cards and he’s asking me for cash. WTF? Okay my Spanish is pretty good if I do say so myself, but even an idiot knows that “sí” means yes when you ask some if they accept “tarejatas de crédito”. I don’t have enough cash to cover the fare so I ask him to stop so I can get out. Shit. Now I need to find another cab, and one that accepts credit cards. First one pulls up. Nope, sorry. Second one. Bingo! Vámanos!
Sometime during this taxi fiasco I received another email: *Your (second) trip was cancelled after 5 minutes of requesting it. You are being charged $1,100 COP*. Of course I am. Now that I’m in a cab and on my way to the airport I can’t wait to send Uber a nasty message telling them how pissed off I am. Traffic was light on the way to the airport and in about 20 minutes I’m at the airport lining up to check in. No, I hadn’t checked-in yet. I tried to last night and the website wouldn’t allow me to. Naturally.
Surprisingly, the queue is only a few people deep so I breathe a mild sigh of relief, but still not knowing what lay ahead at Passport Control and Security. 4 agents handling 2 queues, easy breezy. 2 of the agents were only accepting people who had already check-in. How those people were able to check-in was beyond me. Anyway, still not too bad. My flight was scheduled to leave in just under 2 hours. There was still time. After 10 minutes in the queue I still hadn’t moved. Both agents were engaged in what looked like a full recount of their lift story up until that moment. I actually went up to the two ladies checking in to the left and told them to hurry up. One of them tugged on the other one’s arm and they scurried away.
Okay, time to check-in. They actually asked for my exit flight from my next country (thanks Claire for providing those deets!). I put my luggage on the scale for the moment of truth. 23.7 kilos. It’s cool, it still says 23, right? Whew! I’ve already paid about $200 in excess luggage in the past 8 months, not to mention the cost of shipping stuff home, so I was relieved. Note to self: Get rid of more shit.
The agent hands me the boarding passes (I was flying from Santiago to Panama City, then on to Medellín) but tells me not to go through passport control yet because it was likely the flight would be delayed due to a problem with the crew. If the flight ends up being delayed I’d likely miss my connection. It’s 10:30 and the flight is scheduled to leave at 12:05. She tells me to come back at 11:10.
There are only 2 restaurants on this side of Passport Control and I quickly ruled out the well-picked over buffet of breads and cakes and cold cuts. The next one holds more promise since they actually have a menu. I was hoping for eggs but it wasn’t meant to be. I settle for a croissant, freshly pulled from a plastic bag, cut in half and filled with cold, grilled vegetables. The coffee tasted burnt and was filled to the brim, with the cup swimming its saucer. Worst breakfast ever? Possibly.
Okay it’s 11:10, prepare for the worst. The lady at the counter – the other one this time – tells me to go straight to the gate. Awesome, let’s do this! The line for passport control moves quickly. Yes! Now security. The line is long but it moves quickly. I leave half of the shit in my bag that I normally take out because they don’t seem checking over anyone’s stuff too carefully. It’s fine. I’m through and it’s only 11:30. I got this. Check the monitor to confirm gate and departure time. Flight 118 to Panama City – delayed to 16:15. F*ck! A four hour delay means I’ll miss my connection by about 2.5 hours. But wait a minute, why did the lady tell me to go to the gate in the first place? I go to the gate anyway to find out what my options are but it’s occupied by another airline. I scour the terminal looking for another COPA Air departing flight, to no avail. Not a single airline rep on this side of passport control. I’m pissed off and hungry for a proper meal and I can’t even get a meal voucher. Do you think I could find a bar that could serve me a Bloody Mary? Cuz I could really use one right about now. Dream on.
Luckily, I still had a lot of data on my SIM so I made a few WhatsApp calls. This isn’t all bad, I can catch up on phone calls. What’s this? Uber responded already. “We’ll refund your two cancellation charges.” Thanks, but not good enough. I’ve missed my flight (through no fault of yours) and I want a credit for the 15,000 CLP that I paid for the taxi to get here. Thank you.
Looking at all the flights from Panama City to Medellín for later this afternoon doesn’t look good. The last one departs at 9:00pm but I don’t think I’ll make it. Fast forward a few hours to 3:30. The gate opens so I speak to an agent. “Sorry sir, you’ll fly to Medellín tomorrow morning at 7:20am. We’ll pay your dinner and your hotel in Panama City.” Damn right you will. Here’s the kicker though (yes, another one), that’s the flight I was originally scheduled on before I paid $180 to change it.
My flights were booked by the RY flight team and they had me on an overnight flight to Panama City, getting in at 6:00am, then connecting with the one at 7:20am. I had it changed it because I wanted to be in Medellín tonight. I hadn’t seen my crew for a month, and it’s actually the birthday of two of them today. It would have been a good night to reunite. Not gonna happen.
Anyway I finally make it my seat. I’m not surrounded my any screaming children and they actually had a vegetarian meal for me (unlike the flight down). I even had a chance to watch a movie that I rather enjoyed, another thing I seldom do lately. For the record it was Collateral Beauty with Ed Norton and Will Smith. I’ve had the time to write this post, so that’s a win too. This journey is far from over yet though. I still have to deal with the crew at the airport in Panama City, stay in some god-forsaken hotel situated who-knows-how-far from the airport, and likely arrive after the kitchen has already closed. And then there’s that early flight tomorrow morning. But that’s tomorrow. Today is April fool’s day and the joke is on me.